The Biggest Bombs and Blockbusters at the 2016 Box Office

The Biggest Bombs and Blockbusters the
Courtesy of Walt Disney Pictures

There were plenty of triumphs and turkeys at the multiplexes this year. Instead of just looking at grosses (head over to Box Office Mojo for that), Variety took a more subjective approach. We’re breaking down five of 2016’s most surprising or painful flops and five of its most important and impressive hits. It’s more art than accounting. So big hits like “Finding Dory” and “Captain America: Civil War” don’t get their due here, and duds like “Nine Lives” and “Free State of Jones” get a pass. We were more interested in the sure things that weren’t and the blockbusters that just as easily could have bombed. So without further ado, here’s a look at the year that was, the franchises that were created, and the ones that were snuffed out.

The Biggest Flops:

“Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” (TriStar)
Global Box Office: $26.2 million
Production Budget: $40 million
Why it Made the List: Ang Lee was riding high after “Life of Pi” captured a best director Oscar and made more than $600 million globally. It makes sense why Sony would jump at the chance to work with the filmmaker, particularly when he had grand plans to push the limits of 3D by shooting in ultra-high frame rates. Unfortunately, his latest effort pleased neither critics nor audiences, many of whom griped that the film had an off-putting telenovela glow. It was in and out of theaters in a matter of weeks and ranks as the biggest bomb of Lee’s career.

“The BFG” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $178.4 million
Production Budget: $140 million
Why it Made the List: The combination of Steven Spielberg and Roald Dahl was expected to result in a children’s classic. Instead of a new “E.T.,” the film about a big friendly giant was given a massive cold shoulder, losing tens of millions. For Spielberg, who hasn’t had a blockbuster hit since 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it’s a sign that a filmmaker who once had his finger firmly on pop culture’s pulse, may have lost his feel for the zeitgeist. He’ll try to recapture his mojo with 2018’s “Ready Player One,” an adaptation of a hit sci-fi novel.

“The Divergent Series: Allegiant” (Lionsgate)
Global Box Office: $179.2 million
Production Budget: $110 million
Why it Made the List: This is how a franchise dies. The box office returns were so dreadful that Lionsgate, the studio behind the tween series, scrapped plans to make a final film. Instead, it will try to wrap things up with a new television series. It sounds like the studio may have some trouble convincing the stars to make the small screen transition, however.

Ben-Hur” (MGM)
Global Box Office: $94.1 million
Production Budget: $100 million
Why it Made the List: This chariot ride pancaked into the side of the coliseum, resulting in a nearly $50 million write down for MGM, one of the studios behind the misbegotten Biblical epic.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $299.5 million
Production Budget: $170 million
Why it Made the List: Johnny Depp’s $20 million paychecks probably went up down the rabbit hole along with this money loser.

The Biggest Hits

“Deadpool” (Fox)
Global Box Office: $782.6 million
Production Budget: $58 million
Why it Made the List: Ryan Reynolds reclaimed his spot on the A-list as the fourth-wall breaking, foul-mouthed, spandex sporting mercenary. The very R-rated comic book adaptation is also one of the most profitable films of the year. It was made for a mere $58 million –essentially the bagel budget on “The X-Men.”

“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” (Disney)
Global Box Office: $323.5 million*
Production Budget: $200 million
Why it Made the List: The first Star Wars spin-off just proved that a galaxy far, far away is vast enough to support non-Skywalker stories. Star Wars should become an annual moviegoing event, much like the Marvel movies. Get ready for everything from Greedo origin stories to road trip movies about hitting up Tosche Station for some power converters!

“The Secret Life of Pets” (Universal)
Global Box Office: $875.3 million
Production Budget: $75 million
Why it Made the List: Cue the inevitable sequel! Illumination, the maker of “Despicable Me,” confirms that it’s an animation powerhouse.

“Sully” (Warner Bros.)
Global Box Office: $228.3 million
Production Budget: $60 million
Why it Made the List: At a time when studios are steering clear of serious dramas in favor of films about tights-wearing vigilantes, the Clint Eastwood and Tom Hanks drama was a fall breakout. Yes, other films made more. But this was a reminder that sometimes quality rises to the top.

“Don’t Breathe” (Sony/Screen Gems)
Global Box Office: $153.2 million
Production Budget: $9.9 million
Why it Made the List: This low budget horror hit had no stars and wasn’t part of a franchise. What it did have was plenty of scares. Critics loved the home invasion chiller and so did audiences, who showed up to scream in droves.

*Still in theaters

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  1. May says:

    Variety, variety, variety!!!! Considering billy lynn and the long halftime walk has not opened in most territories, not sure how you can rank it that much of a flop. The US is not the total world. There are some places that actually appreciate art. Not everyone is a marvel enthusiast.

  2. Olga Mattos says:

    Don’t breathe, the best movie in years!

  3. David says:

    Man Brent Lang is a hack

  4. Iconoclaust says:

    Given the author’s stated guidelines, the failure to list Zootopia among the hits is inexplicable. Unlike Finding Dory, etal., it is a brilliant, wildly original adult film without any franchise elements. Its tremendous grosses were accrued by way of tremendous legs and disproportionately high overseas grosses. .

  5. Esoteric Candy says:

    I think the article judges Spielberg just a BIT too harshly — not so much for “The BFG” — but when it declares: ‘For Spielberg, who hasn’t had a blockbuster hit since 2008’s “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull,” it’s a sign that a filmmaker who once had his finger firmly on pop culture’s pulse, may have lost his feel for the zeitgeist.’

    Let’s take a look at those post “Crystal Skull” flicks:

    His animated film “The Adventures of Tintin”, which got little notice here, nevertheless made $373 million worldwide. “War Horse” might have been a minor disappointment, but it still almost tripled its budget of $66 million with a worldwide cume of $177 million. More impressive was the $65 million budgeted “Lincoln” that earned $275 million worldwide and the relatively meager budgeted “Bridge of Spies” ($40 million budget) bringing in a WW total of $165 million. Ya can’t rave about “Sully” being considered one of the biggest hits of the year and also knock Spielberg whose last three equally serious films have done numbers in the same neighborhood. Not to mention each of those last three Spielberg films earned a Best Picture nomination (as well as some hardware for cast members) to go along with the cashflow.

    So much for pop culture’s pulse & the zeitgeist…

    All it really amounts to a needless slap at him — and instead presents a distorted image of his output over the past several years. I expect better from the entertainment publication of record. :)

  6. “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” …..biggest hits?????

  7. tony says:

    low budget horror and mid range budgeted animation are hollywood’s secret weapons now.

  8. tony says:

    BFG should have been released in the fall not as a summer movie.
    and the same goes for ‘star trek beyond’ so it was timed with the 50th anniversary.

  9. aroop2065 says:

    How the List does not include the Highest grossing movies of the year (2016) Captain America Civil War , Finding Dory and Zootopia ?

  10. jamesbdigriz says:

    Odd you wouldn’t have the Ghostbusters reboot in this list. It made 229 million on a 154 million budget(not including the massive marketing budget it had gotten).

    • jedi77 says:

      Since those numbers are almost identical to Alice Through the Looking Glass, it is indeed odd. But I am guessing calling Ghostbusters a “failure” or a “bomb” is misogynistic nowadays.

      • no says:

        Variety is too liberal to point out the failure of Ghostbusters, but as you point out, mention Alice that had the same numbers.

  11. Although I am interested in how films made profits and losses – this article seems completely arbitrary in it’s choice of what to look at. And Rogue One only just came out last week – how can you even put that on the list?

    I also notice that you only listed the production budgets – but completely left out the marketing budgets (which are usually almost as much, and in some cases more).

    For instance, Ben Hur’s total marketing was over 80 million, on top of the 100 million production cost. So it lost almost 100 million, which is what resulted in the 50 million write down (due to accounting practices).

    This is a really badly written article. What was the point?

  12. happy says:

    This is a lousy article. How can you consider Rogue One the “biggest success” when so far its box office hasn’t come anywhere close to other blockbusters’? Or are you just assuming?

    • Because its on track to make 1.3-1.5 billion (with a Jan release in China). Donnie Yen was really good in it and it was better written then Force Awakes (given it was good for a sequel/reboot).

    • Malcolm says:

      Because it’s a minor spin-off filling in a non-existing gap in the mythos that barely has a purpose, recognisable characters or cast.

      By making such a lot of money so fast, it has already thoroughly proven that the wider Star Wars universe is worth the effort. Disney can plough ahead with spin-offs and the like rather than just the main nearly-over 9 film centrepiece.

      Not necessarily a surprise, but certainly a vindication of a slight gamble. Like Deadpool.

    • What's the dill? says:

      Just another article shilling for STAR WARS. Don’t, don’t, don’t, don’t , don’t believe the hype. Week 2 hasn’t happened yet, and we all know and remember what happened to the super hyped BATMAN VS SUPERMAN fiasco by the end of its 2nd weekend, and 80% collapse on Friday resulted into a spiraling freefall. Meanwhile, little Dylan Minette turned the super cheap DON’T BREATHE into a true mega-blockbuster. Guess who is a star now? LOL!

    • Cass says:

      Um, you’re new to the movie business aren’t you.

  13. Nick Krewen says:

    I understand it was a critical flop, but how is making $299.5M on a $170M a financial flop for Alice Through The Looking Glass?

    • Wayne says:

      You need to make three times your budget to make back your investment. This was a production budget and didn’t take into mind advertising which can easily equal the production cost of a film today.

    • Studio Employee says:

      You need to understand that the studio does not receive 100% of the theatrical box office, in fact they receive on average 40-42% of the box office. That would mean Disney received around $126M of the box office receipts. When you factor in the cost of production ($170M) and P&A (probably $80-100M), you would have a loss in the range of -$124-144M. Home Video, Merch, TV license fees, and SVOD license fees will bring down the loss tremendously, but make no mistake about it this film was a bomb and will be a financial loss for Disney.

      FYI I work in film finance for a major studio (one of our movies made the bombs list, though I am surprised more of our films didn’t make the list).

      • You don’t need to make “3 times” your budget back to get to black ink, where are you getting your math? Standard is budget plus 60 to cover advertising, none of which includes further downstream revenue. Lead actors no longer receive backend profit deals , Downey is the last lucky one to get that. International funnels even more profit even with their profit restrictions.

  14. how is suicide squad not on the list it made 745 million WW without china the 2nd biggest box office revenue in the world for example civil war doesn’t hit 1 billion without china

    • It was decided early on by the critic-elites that any non-Marvel superhero release required stupendous returns just to get to profit. As the audience ratings/rankings defied them they doubled down and refused to make reality a priority.

    • jedi77 says:

      What on earth is your point, about Civil War not making a billion without China?
      So what? What bearing does that possibly have on Suicide Squad’s BO results, with or without China?

      I could counter the pointless argument with this pointless argument:

      Deadpool didn’t have China.
      Batman vs. Superman, without China, made less than Deadpool.

    • Rex the Wonder Dog says:

      Probably because Deadpool and Secret Life of Pets made more money but cost about a third and about half as much money to film. And Deadpool didn’t show in China either.

    • JimG. says:

      I’m guessing it’s because of its 175m price tag which puts its threshold at about 500m so that’s only 1.5x that number. If they went past 5 hits SS would have merited inclusion. Oh and even if it had grossed CACW’s China numbers it still wouldn’t have crossed the 1B mark.

    • Very good point. I hated the film, but it did very well financially. So it should definitely be on the list.

    • Cass says:

      I didn’t like Suicide Squad, but you’re right. It was a hit and should be on the list.

  15. Moovee Atty says:


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